Earmark requests grow as House Appropriations panels begin work

$7.1 billion in total requests for ‘community project funding’

Florida Rep. Brian Mast wants more funding for Everglades restoration.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Florida Rep. Brian Mast wants more funding for Everglades restoration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 23, 2021 at 9:17am

House lawmakers’ appropriations earmark requests have grown by $1.2 billion as the committee prepares to start releasing fiscal 2022 spending bills this week.

The new total, over $7.1 billion, represents an increase of roughly 20 percent over initial “community project funding” requests made in late April. The House Appropriations Committee updated its earmarks database earlier this week.

More than half of that increase, or $752.4 million, is courtesy of Florida Republican Brian Mast, who now holds the title of House member requesting the most dollars, eclipsing two Texas lawmakers who jointly requested $234 million for two Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport projects, among other individual requests.

Mast’s ask is mostly due to an Everglades restoration project in the works for the past two decades, for which he and other Florida lawmakers on both sides of the aisle charge the federal government hasn’t lived up to its end of the bargain.

Florida lawmakers point out that under a 2000 water infrastructure law the federal-state funding split on the Everglades project was supposed to be 50-50, and Florida has put up $4.5 billion. Estimates of the federal contribution vary — Floridians say it’s $1.7 billion, while the Army Corps of Engineers cites a $2.4 billion figure — but either way, it’s short of a 50-50 split.

In March, Mast and the rest of the state’s delegation penned a letter to President Joe Biden asking for $725 million in fiscal 2022, but ultimately it was Mast who put his name on the official request to House appropriators after Biden’s budget proposed $350 million.

Mast, an Army veteran who lost both legs in Afghanistan and is now in his third term, didn’t submit any requests ahead of the panel’s late April deadlines. But after the Army Corps of Engineers budget request was released in full on May 28, he submitted six requests to the Energy-Water subcommittee, including $725 million for the Everglades project.

Mast advocated the funding during a “Members Day” hearing this month, saying that the Biden administration’s proposal wasn’t enough.

“Ensuring the preservation of this unique ecosystem is vital to the ecology, economy and public health of Florida, and we are at a critical juncture in the restoration process to do just that,” Mast said at the June 10 hearing.

The Army Corps in its fiscal 2022 request points out that $350 million would mark a 40 percent increase over the current fiscal year for the Everglades project and that more money would flow under Biden’s proposed $2.6 trillion infrastructure package.

Energy-Water sees most demand

The Energy-Water subcommittee, which provides funding for the Army Corps, Energy Department, Bureau of Reclamation, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and several other agencies, saw the largest jump in earmark requests from April to June.

The subcommittee, led by Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur, now has 145 requests totaling $1.56 billion. That’s more than double the 73 earmark requests totaling $481 million the panel had before the update.

The Military Construction-VA panel experienced the second-largest increase in funding requests with lawmakers now asking subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., to fund $326.5 million compared with the former total of $165.1 million.

The new request total includes 10 additional projects, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis of committee data.

The Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-HUD subcommittees are the only two that saw a decrease in spending requests with proposals dropping by $8.4 million and $45.8 million respectively.

The Homeland Security panel saw no change in either the number of requests or the total amount of funding proposed.

The 131 additions and some changes to previous requests follow the release of Biden’s budget request on May 28, when the House Appropriations Committee allowed members to update their funding requests through June 4. The spending panel originally had staggered deadlines in late April for the 10 subcommittees accepting home-state funding requests.

The new table posted to the House Appropriations Committee’s website also includes requests from newly elected lawmakers and technical corrections to previous requests.

Reps. Troy Carter, D-La., Julia Letlow, R-La., and Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M. — who were sworn in on May 11, April 14 and June 14 respectively — all had earmark requests included in the latest update.

Stansbury, in office a little more than a week so far, worked fast to get her six requests in the pipeline. Examples include $7 million for a new fire facility in Moriarty, N.M.; $1.5 million for renovations to research facilities at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque; and $1 million for the Albuquerque Police Department to establish a trauma recovery center for survivors of violent crimes.

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., submitted earmark requests in April but he nearly doubled the amount of money he’d like the panel to infuse into his district from $47.4 million to $88.8 million when he increased his requests from seven to the max of 10.

New project funding requests include $25 million for the Army Corps to complete a comprehensive management study of the lower Mississippi River and to “holistically manage” and “modernize” the river’s multistate management.

He proposed $15 million for the Army to finish the engineering and design phase of a floodgate within the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection system. And he asked for $1.35 million for the pre-engineering and design phase of a project to deepen the Houma Navigation Canal from 15 to 20 feet.

Graves also requested the single largest surface transportation bill earmark.

Some downsizing, too

Not all members increased the amount of funding they hope House appropriators will dole out to their districts.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., lowered his requests by nearly $90 million, from $128.9 million to $39.7 million.

A Bacon spokesperson said the Energy-Water panel determined his $89.2 million request to upgrade six Omaha-area flood control reservoirs didn’t meet its requirements because the projects weren’t authorized. In his original request, Bacon wrote that the projects would “reduce the risk of flooding and life safety for the Omaha metro area that has been exasperated by climate change.”

Bacon is a top Democratic target in the 2022 midterms, having won reelection last year by less than 5 points in a district that backed Biden over President Donald Trump by 7 points.

Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson, the GOP Conference vice chairman, reduced his requests by $55 million, for a new total of $36 million.

Johnson withdrew a request for the Military Construction-VA panel to fund a joint operations center in Leesville, La., that he said was built in 1967 as a classroom and is now “significantly undersized” to meet needs.

“Since the president’s budget request included Congressman Johnson’s $55 million request for a new Joint Operations Center at Ft. Polk, the Congressman’s request no longer falls under the community project funding category, and as such, the request was withdrawn,” spokesman Taylor Haulsee said in a statement.

Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, lowered his request from $88.2 million to $38.2 million by removing a proposed $70 million expansion of a two-lane roadway he said was “needed due to increased volumes related to development along the corridor” and adding a $20 million request for the Willow Fork Drainage District.

Nehls’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Tom Cole, the top Republican on the Rules Committee, reduced the amount of spending he wants for his Oklahoma district from $82.4 million to $38.1 million.

Much of that decrease stems from lowering his initial $50 million bid for redeveloping a 60-year-old industrial airpark into a global logistics hub. Cole’s request for development of a “Global Transportation and Industrial Park” is now $3.9 million. He also cut a request for redeveloping a commercial center in downtown Lawton, Okla., to attract new businesses and high-tech jobs, from $7.95 million to $3.95 million.

Cole said in a statement that “the decrease is the result of revisions to two requests that were made to reflect a narrower project scope for this fiscal year.”

Cole also added some requests, including a $5 million ask of the Energy-Water subcommittee to fund water-related infrastructure in 58,000-resident Midwest City and $850,000 for mental health counselor training and credentialing at Mid-America Christian University. That request went to the Labor-HHS-Education panel, where he’s also the top Republican.

Decisions on which earmarks will be included in the dozen fiscal 2022 spending bills are already being made, with the first batch ready for release.

The Financial Services spending bill is set for a subcommittee markup Thursday, with Agriculture and Military Construction-VA scheduled for Friday. And the coveted Energy-Water bill is scheduled for subcommittee action on July 1.